National identity: the value of branding

Nation branding is a vital tool in our global age. Vision explores the value of positioning a country on the world stage

The UAE has been ranked 19th out of 100 world countries for the value of its national identity by brand valuation experts Brand Finance. This eminent annual listing of 100 countries sees the Middle Eastern country (positioned at 19) in good company with Switzerland (number 1) and the USA (number 3).

The findings, which consider aspects such as quality of life, quality of the workforce and projected GDP growth, show that slogans such as ‘Definitely Dubai’ or Abu Dhabi’s ‘And you think you’ve done it all?’ mean the country adds up to much more than just a tourism hot spot.

Nation branding as a practice aims to measure, build and manage the reputation of countries, a strategy analogous to that which has been used by businesses for hundreds of years. “The financial uplift provided to a product or corporation from a strong brand is well known, and companies invest heavily in protecting their brands,” comments David Haigh, CEO, of Brand Finance. “Nations can adopt similar techniques to capitalise on the economic growth that comes with proper positioning of a nation brand.”

Hosted by Dubai, the World Expo will run for six months in 2020 on an overarching theme of "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future" and subthemes of Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity. Dubai is the first Middle Eastern city to act as host in the prestigious event’s 162-year history. Brand Finance has calculated that winning the right to host the Expo will boost the UAE’s nation brand by US$8bn.

As the winning nation knows, the skill with nation branding is being able to highlight aspects of a country’s profile that appeal both to tourists and to investors. This is something Britain reached a hiatus around in 2012 during the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

These events were an opportunity for the host country to boost its image across all industry sectors. The carefully executed GREAT Britain campaign worked to promote the advantages of doing business there. For example the UK department of Trade and Industry ran advertising highlighting the low corporation tax, availability of tech clusters and a highly skilled workforce.

Without a doubt building a successful national brand can have a huge impact on a country's economy, a benefit which has been regularly explored by brand specialist Interbrand.

According to Ariën Breunis, associate director in Interbrand’s Amsterdam office, a strong national brand is built on three cornerstones: “First, you need a clearly defined national narrative, an agreement on a differentiating and relevant "story" of what the nation truly stands for; Second, this narrative has to guide and direct brand execution.

"What you’re looking for here is focused, strategy-led communication rather than stand-alone, short-term campaigns and taglines; And the third necessary element a strong nation brand requires, is a consistent stream of actions and behaviour that constantly prove the truth of the defined national narrative.”

Any country wanting to make a success of business, trade and tourism efforts in today’s marketplace needs to consider its national reputation carefully, not only with clever marketing communications but by living the brand.